When our Founding Fathers wrote the historic words “all men are created equal,” they probably didn’t have people like me in mind. As late as 1923, the Supreme Court held that people of Indian origin were ineligible for citizenship, holding that citizenship was a privilege for “white persons” and that “it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry.” Today, thanks to the brave men and women who fought throughout our history to bring us closer to the ideals of our nation’s founding documents, I am not only a citizen, but a Congressman and an American with every fiber of my being.
I am finishing my first year in Congress and think this is an apt time to reflect on where we have come from and how our nation can continue to forge ahead to make our founding principles an everlasting reality. Since arriving here as an infant with my immigrant parents, I have felt America’s embrace. This nation has provided me with hope, nurtured my talents, and has enabled me to now represent hundreds of thousands of my neighbors in Congress. And my story is one that is familiar to millions of American families.
That’s what makes our country exceptional: what defines Americans is not our common ancestry but our shared ideals. If you subscribe to the national principles of freedom, opportunity, and equal justice under law, you too can become an American – no matter who you are, what you look like or where you came from.
Equality as a principle is at the heart of our democracy. Our country's history is a generation-spanning journey to effectuate the notion that “all men are created equal” for the members of our ever-expanding national family: women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, gays and lesbians, the disabled, immigrants, and refugees.
This journey has been riddled by efforts to prevent groups of people from knowing full equality. Yet every time our country has heard the siren’s song of hatred and exclusion, we have ultimately drowned it out with a chorus of inclusion. As Americans, we recognize that discrimination against anyone is an assault on everyone.
Today, men like Roy Moore, Stephen Miller, and Steve Bannon are peddling a message of division which would deny millions their place as equal members of our society. Organizations born of hate march from the darkest pages of our history. Instead of continuing to expand the American community, these groups would turn us back to a time where it was an act of courage for American citizens simply to assert their humanity. And while some believe the forces of division have the upper hand today, I know they will not succeed.
America works best when we work together to expand the circle of inclusion. Our nation’s founding principles of opportunity and equality must be honored by including those our Framers left out -- either purposely (in the case of women and African-Americans) or because they weren’t even considered (such as gays and lesbians and the disabled). As our collective consciousness has expanded, the barriers to equality have been lowered. And while the path hasn’t always been smooth, it has led always toward our highest ideals.
Today, as our historic progress is under threat in Washington, Charlottesville, and other places across our country, it is time for all of us to stand together to protect and expand the rights we share. We cannot identify only with our own tribe, be it based on race, religion, whom we love, or where we come from. Those divisions create wedges that demagogues will exploit. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “moral arc of the universe” may bend toward justice, but only if we bend it together.
Now is the time to march together in a unified movement for equality. Your fight is my fight, just as mine is yours. There is nothing more American than standing up for the rights of others. And no person – not even a President – is more equal before the law.